Closing state parks will never balance California’s budget

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“What do you want to do for your birthday,” The Cutest Man In The World asked me recently.

He’s not just cute. He’s smart, too. He realized the hard way after we got married (as did I) that there’s one thing on which we’re completely out of sync: birthday celebrations. For him, a celebration might be a nice grilled dinner in the backyard, and a thoughtful card and gift.

Yes, that’s lovely and sweet, but … Where are the fire dancers and the band? Streamers and balloons, Grey Goose Jell-o shots, valet parking and karaoke until dawn, and police knocking on the door because the drum circle is too noisy? Now that’s a party, by my standards. The only thing that’d make it totally perfect? A pony. With a fat pink ribbon tied around its forelock.

I’ve been asking for that pony every birthday since I was old enough to ask for something. I’m still asking. Call me an optimist.

Anyway, taking into account that TCMITW and I are a bit askew when it comes to revelry, it was insightful of him to ask what I wanted, and (in my humble opinion) thoroughly gracious of me to offer a reasonable answer: an afternoon at my favorite beach on the Sonoma Coast — Schoolhouse Beach — where I used to spend every spare moment I had. But over the last 10 years or so, I’m appalled to stop and realize, I haven’t made it there once.

I realized however, that this request was still pushing the TCMITW out of his comfort zone a bit because he loathes car trips. He agreed with my request, but countered with a compromise: As long as we spend the night so we aren’t driving all day.

What — extend the fun and frivolity for another 24 hours? Gee. Let me think about that for a nanosecond.

We set off for Petaluma first for a visit to the Lagunitas brewery, and stayed in a zany little hotel called the Metro Hotel & Café (note: there is no café) that was a colorful kaleidoscope of French kitsch and collectibles. You’d have to fall down a rabbit hole to find more quirk. My favorite feature was a big plastic goose on our nightstand that doubled as a lamp. The most whimsical feature were the two Bambi Airstreams out back that double as “rooms.”

We had a blast at the Lagunitas brewery, and the next morning as we strolled around downtown Petaluma, somewhere between the nouveau industrial architecture along the Petaluma River and the the Seed Bank – which is literally a seed bank of thousands of rare and heirloom seeds — we both simultaneously fell head over heels in love with Petaluma. If I ever find out the Argus-Courier needs an editor, my boss better worry. I’d relocate there in a blink.

After a lovely brunch next to the water, we headed to the coast. I couldn’t wait to get down onto Schoolhouse Beach and dig into the warm pea gravel, which is what makes this beach so unique — there’s almost no sand. Just an expanse of colorful agate gravel, formed by the relentless crashing of waves against the boulders and cliffs, grinding them into bits and pieces, polished by the surging tides.

The water there isn’t for swimming, however. If the ice-cold temperature didn’t kill you, the undertows and sleeper waves would. It’s definitely a beach to just sit and wonder over the power and beauty of Mother Nature, and reconnect.

Besides gravel, if you’re patient and persistent enough, you can sift around for mermaid tears (beach glass). As the sea legend goes, whenever you find one, the soul of a drowned sailor is set free. I’ve personally liberated dozens of souls, and have a little abalone shell full of the evidence.

I was so thrilled to be reconnecting with my favorite reconnecting spot. Imagine my supreme shock when we pulled up and discovered blockades across the entrance declaring, “Beach Closed.” No explanation. Just closed. Not to worry — maybe there was a shark attack or seals breeding or something. We decided to make the best of it and went on down the highway to Wright’s Beach, my second-favorite spot from my childhood.

As we paid the parking fee, I asked the ranger why Schoolhouse Beach was closed, and was shocked to discover that it’s among the many state parks that have been shut down in an effort to close California’s budget gap. I realize the state has to cut back somewhere, but seriously — how much could a small, barren beach on the Sonoma Coast really cost to “operate”?

The barricades will cost more to maintain than the beach, and scraping up the bloody carcasses of those foolish enough to park along Highway 1 and hike back to Schoolhouse Beach will cost even more. Just the time for one CHP officer to direct traffic around the carnage will cost more than a year’s worth of standing by and doing nothing while the waves carve up the rocks.

If this is how the state is attempting to save money, we’re in big trouble, my friends. There are a million other things the state could cut that would make a more significant impact. Let’s start with the Department of Education. My experience with that department was stunningly unsatisfactory. About all they were capable of doing was reading to me from their own website. Which I had open right in front of me and could read myself.

Useless. Utterly useless. Besides, school matters are better handled at the county and district level.

Hey, Gov. Brown — how about you eliminate the Department of Education and give me back my beach? I’d be personally very grateful. In fact, that would be the best birthday present ever.

Except for a pony.

— Email Debra at; read more of her work at, and

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